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of clockwork men

We call upon the author to explain

Thoughts on size, and whether it matters.

I’m gong to cheat here, ever so slightly, and not necessarily address comments as they come in. Instead, as there’s an order to these short entries (insofar as they’re written out as titles and notes in a file here) I’m going to address points from comments as they come up in these entries.

Today – some thoughts about whether or not I could have made it smaller?

Baldur suggests two things in his comments on “Reading..”. The point about online reading is a disagreement, and we’ve been there before, but he dismisses the scale issue, too easily I think.

I had a long conversation with Jon Dovey at the outset of the project, which circled the topic of the size of the story and looked at it from every angle we could think of. Jon’s instinct was that I should focus down on a small portion of the whole piece, and demonstrate the principles I was working with in a scaled-down, tighter version of the final model. I resisted that (it’s fair to point out that Jon might have been right, in retrospect, but I took his thoughts on board) for two reasons, as I recall. The first was largely hubris. I wanted to tell the whole story. Having carried this tale around in my head for the best part of a decade, it wanted to be out of my head and into the world. The second was to learn. I could have made a small, perfect version of an interactive text, ten sections of story and a few fragments of video, all linked together. But that wouldn’t have taught me anything (or so I thought, I’ll actually never know) and it wouldn’t have told me anything about how scale works. A story structure that works in fifteen sections isn’t going to tell me anything very useful about one that has a hundred and sixty pieces. Invert the proposition though, and the hundred and sixty piece puzzle tells me a lot about the smaller model. How readers read, for example. What was taken from the servers and what needed to be in place for more to be taken and assembled.

I’m interested in the reading process, and the writing process for a digital object, and I’m generally suspicious of story forms that require a long instruction manual. To that extent, one of my aims here was not to require the story to come with an set of rigorous guidelines. I hoped, probably against my better judgement, that the routes would become clear. In retrospect that might have been a mistake and had I provided a set of guidelines, the reading experience would have made more sense, been less obtuse. However, those guidelines (I’m considering a second edition of this project immediately following this one, but drawing all the learning together, especially with regard to containers and guiding frameworks) would not mandate how the reader accessed the text, rather how they reached into it a reworked it. We’re not told explicitly how to read a novel. We learn by doing, by finding better examples to teach us, and one of the problematic aspects of digital narrative is that we don’t have enough of it yet (Cough. Plugs his own piece on the Literary Platform. Cough).

Baldur’s other point from yesterday (there were more, but this is the one that fits in here): “Wouldn’t a networked, interconnected, distributed native digital writing have hyperlinks? There’s an argument to be made that a nonlinear online text without hyperlinks is no more digital than a stack of index cards that has been scattered over the floor. Especially since you’re using the web for distribution.

Yes, and that’s something to think about. Not in the initial distribution of the piece, but in its reassembly. Am I explicitly asking each reader to be a user of Tinderbox? (Mark Bernstein was sent a tube, and an SD card. I’ll follow up and find out whether he made any sense of it) I don’t think the hyperlink is a necessary component of all digital writing. It might be though, I might not have thought about this enough and be blinded by my distrust of hypertext storytelling.

Like I said, today is thoughts. Tomorrow some sense.


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